Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London

Stephen McRae and Roberta Marquez in ‘Swan Lake’

Steven McRae’s performances with the Royal Ballet are marked both by the brightest technical skill and by a no less vivid dramatic temperament. The dance shines with intelligence. (Degas’ observation that “Dancers are generally stupid” is far from true). In ballet after ballet, McRae cuts a role with sharpest focus, finds a presence, an identity, vital to the life of the work.

On Wednesday afternoon he appeared as Siegfried in the Royal Ballet’s overblown Swan Lake, with Roberta Marquez as Odette/Odile, and we saw fascinating performances from both artists.

McRae, who can galvanise the dullest choreography, is nearly defeated by the idiocies of a first act burdened with manic supernumeraries cavorting like Bottom’s thespian deadbeats, dropping things. He plays the scene with his customary verve, but as with every local interpreter, he must realise that there were social rules about whose hand could be kissed – in this instance only the Princess Mother’s – and that no balletic prince would fold his coat before handing it to an attendant, or drink from his insufferable Tutor’s flask. His Siegfried is otherwise ardent in romantic feeling, obedient to the score.

McRae is a fine partner, proves yet again in the third act to be a grandly true and elegant executant, and in the last scene despair gives identity to his every action. (The final leap into the lake must be better contrived for both Odette and Siegfried: at the moment it is an unedifying rush from a sinking liner).

I admired Roberta Marquez’s reading of Odette/Odile. The shape of the dance is generously shown, lusciously phrased, the drama honoured. Here is a ballerina who is the able servant of her role, not intent upon self-justification as an interpreter. Intriguingly, given their very different stage temperaments, she is well matched with McRae. New to me was Bennet Gartside as Rothbart. He plays the malign spirit with his customary and unerring sense of character – splendidly degenerate and watchful in the ball-room – making sense of every moment. The production’s first act remains a raging display of Downton Abbey dramatics, even more foolishly energetic than telly’s collection of badly stuffed aristos and minions.


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